“This isn’t the 18th century,” I said.
Jason looked puzzled by my statement, as if it had nothing to do with our conversation. He had asked me about picking the best qigong exercises for his situation.
“I feel like I have so many exercises to choose from,” he had said. “I want to plan the ultimate qigong routine, but I don’t know which ones to pick.”
That’s why my reply confused him. His look said, “Has Sifu lost his mind?”
Allow me to explain to you what I explained to Jason.
In the 18th century, if you were lucky enough to learn qigong — which would have been like winning the Powerball — then you would have probably learned just a handful of exercises during your first 3 years of study.
You were also expected to practice several hours per day.
In other words, there was no choice. You simply practiced all of the exercises every day. For hours on end.
21st Century Learning
In the 21st century, things are different. For example, in my Qigong 101 Program, I teach over 45 different qigong exercises over a period of 13 months. (It’s a 12-month program, but there’s a bonus month.)
Comparing these two teaching methods, we have:
- 18th century = learn 5 exercises over 3 years and practice 3 hours per day.
- 21st century = learn 45 exercises in 1 year and practice 15-30 minutes per day.
At first glance, this might seem backward. If modern students practice less, shouldn’t they learn fewer exercises?
My answer is clear: nope!
Times have changed, and it’s time for students to embrace that change.
Ancient Chinese Secrets
The old method for teaching qigong and tai chi involved a level of secrecy that is hard for the modern student to grasp.
From a teaching perspective, it was not a good pedagogy.
Pedagogy is an art and a science. Good teachers — of all subjects — strive to improve their methods and thus maximize their students’ learning.
This increased efficiency means that modern students can now learn at a much faster rate.
But the traditional Chinese method was the opposite. It intentionally slowed things down in order to test the student’s commitment. In that sense, it was anti-pedagogical.
During your “probation” phase, secrets were intentionally held by the master. Students were NOT given critical information that would help them progress faster.
No More Secrets
Believe it or not, the tradition of secrecy is still alive today.
There are still teachers, both Asian and non-Asian, who keep secrets from their students.
In other words, they intentionally withhold information that would help their students progress faster.
I’ve never been a teacher who keeps secrets. I’m the son of two teachers, and I take pride in being a skillful educator. I’ve been teaching various arts since 1989, and I’ve always been fascinated by pedagogy. (If you’re curious, I’ve taught tennis, the violin, karate, and kung fu.)
In other words, I am always working on new ways to help my students to learn qigong in a more efficient way.
Liberal Arts Qigong
Let’s go back to Jason’s question. He wanted to know how to choose from the many qigong exercises that he knows.
I graduated from Columbia which is known for its Core Curriculum. Basically, during my first two years in college, I had to read every major piece of Western literature and philosophy.
In fact, a bunch of ancient names are carved into the top of the library: Homer – Herodotus – Sophocles – Plato – Aristotle – Demosthenes – Cicero – Vergil
I read all of those authors and countless more. They’re all on my bookshelf somewhere.
Now here’s my point: I don’t remember everything that I’ve read. I probably don’t even remember 25% of it.
Did I waste my time reading all those other books?
No, absolutely not.
Reading hundreds of books not only stretched and strengthened my mind, but it also helped me to figure out which authors were my favorites.
Naturally, this way of learning stuck with me. Decades later, I see tremendous value in bringing this liberal arts approach to the art of qigong.
The Food in Spain
Years ago, I visited a friend who lives in Spain. He’s originally from NYC like me, so we both have a high standard for food.
“The food is terrible here,” he warned. “But they all think it’s the best in the world.”
After a few meals, I started to believe him. The food was decidedly mediocre.
“Watch this,” he said. We were sitting in yet another mediocre restaurant, and he struck up a conversation with a couple at a nearby table.
“How’s the food here?” he asked in fluent Spanish.
“Excellent,” they both said.
“How’s the food in Spain?” he asked.
“Best in the world!” they both said enthusiastically.
“Do you travel much?” he asked.
“No, we’ve lived here all our lives.”
Do you see why I’m telling you this story? Because I don’t want you to be like that Spanish couple!
Broadening Your Horizons
In the qigong world, we often find teachers and students who, like that Spanish couple, believe that their style is the best in the world.
I’ve been guilty of this in the past. It’s human nature. We want to believe that our city, our sports team, our food, our religion — whatever it is that we are doing — MUST be the best in the world.
If you’ve only learned one style of qigong, or if you’ve only learned one qigong set with 8 to18 exercises — then how do you know if it’s the best?
What do you have to compare those exercises to?
As a teacher, I want to help you to broaden your horizons, to learn many different qigong exercises, and also many different types of qigong.
For example, I teach a variety of different qigong sets:
- The 18 Luohan Hands
- The 12 Qigong Treasures
- Sinew Metamorphosis (Yi Jin Jing)
- The 8 Brocades
- The 18 Arhat Arts
- The 18 Qigong Gems
- The 10 Neigong Exercises
- One Finger Shooting Zen
I’ve also practiced the following styles of qigong:
- Shaolin Hunyuan Yi Qigong
- Chu Style Nei Kung (aka Eternal Spring Qigong)
- Yan Xin Qigong
- Yi Quan
- Chaoyi Fanhuan Qigong
- Wild Goose Qigong
- Primordial Qigong
- Dragon and Tiger Qigong
- Zhineng Qigong
- Spring Forest Qigong
- Holden Qigong
So when you learn Flowing Zen Qigong (the name of my style of qigong), you’re not just learning one style.
Actually, Flowing Zen Qigong is more like a university. I aim to give my students a liberal arts education in qigong.
In the end, I want you to figure out not which style of qigong is best, but which sets and skills are best for YOU.
How Big is Your Repertoire?
When selecting which exercises to practice, it’s good to have a large repertoire.
Years ago, I used to prescribe exercises for my students. Since I’m trained in Chinese Medicine, I would ask them a series of questions, and then select the best exercises for their situation.
But often, these students didn’t know the exercises that I wanted to prescribe. (Side note: this was one of the reasons that I originally started putting videos online — so that my students could have access to exercises they had not learned.)
I felt like a Chinese herbalist who only had access to a limited supply of herbs.
It was MUCH easier to prescribe exercises to students with a large repertoire. Often, I would be able to prescribe not just one, but a handful of exercises specifically working toward their goals.
Writing Your Own Prescription
Coming up with customized practice routines for students takes time. I have to ask a bunch of questions, try to figure out what’s going on, and then come up with a prescription based on the exercises that they know.
Since it takes up a lot of my time, it also costs money. But not all of my students could afford to pay me for my time.
Luckily, I discovered a method that didn’t require a prescription.
When students used this new method, they still got great results.
This method is simple, and you can start implementing it immediately, assuming that you have a good repertoire of qigong exercises.
Here’s the secret: choose favorites.
In other words, the most cost-effective method I’ve found for targeting specific health conditions is as follows:
- Teach the 5-Phase Routine
- Teach 24-48 different qigong exercises (including different skills)
- Encourage students to choose their favorites.
Why are favorites so important?
It’s like a pregnant woman choosing food intuitively. She and the baby need some specific nutrient, but she doesn’t need to read labels.
She may have no clue about the nutrient, and her doctor might not know either — but her body knows.
This is how you should approach qigong. Choose favorites like a pregnant woman with cravings.
Like the pregnant woman, your cravings may change from week to week. That’s fine. Keep following those cravings.
By choosing your favorite qigong exercises, you will:
- Be much more likely to practice, thereby increasing the dosage of qigong.
- Be much more likely to ENJOY your practice, thereby following the 3 Golden Rules.
- Gradually settle on exercises that are a perfect fit for your energy and your body.
Advantage, Online Learning
I started teaching this method before I started teaching online.
Now that I teach mainly online, I discovered something else.
When it comes to choosing favorites, online learning has an advantage over in-person learning.
For example, when I would prescribe exercises to students in my brick-and-mortar studio, I often found that even though they had learned the exercise a few years earlier, they had forgotten it.
Then, as I started giving my students review videos, I kept hearing the same thing over and over. “I forgot about _____ exercise. It’s my new favorite!”
With online learning, you have on-demand access to a library of exercises.
For example, by the time you finish my Qigong 101 program, you’ll have learned 45 different qigong exercises.
Obviously, you’ll have forgotten many of them over the span of 13 months.
But unlike in-person learning, you can go back and review at your leisure.
This doesn’t mean that online learning is better than in-person learning. They both have advantages and disadvantages.
But don’t listen to people who say that qigong can’t be learned online. It’s nonsense.
The Key is the 5-Phase Routine
This method of choosing favorites may not work as well for every type of qigong.
The reason it works so well for my students is that they know the 5-Phase Routine.
Phase 3 of that routine is called Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. This is a rare qigong skill that generates a palpable energy flow through the meridians.
Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow is unique because it doesn’t direct the qi, but rather, taps into the body’s natural healing wisdom.
When you practice specific qigong exercises, you are basically directing the energy to certain organs and meridians.
For example, when you practice Plucking Stars, you are directing the energy to the Spleen and Stomach Meridians.
That might sound good, but Chinese Medicine is more complicated than that. Maybe the problem SEEMS like it’s in your digestive system, but it’s actually in your Kidney Meridian instead.
What happens if you send qi to the wrong meridian?
The 5-Phase Routine is the great equalizer. Even if you choose exercises that send qi to the wrong meridian, the qi will redirect to the proper destination during Flowing Breeze Swaying Willow. It’s like an automatic guidance system.
If you’d like to learn the 5-Phase Routine, I teach it in the following online courses:
- Quiet Mind, Healthy Body: An Intro to Qigong
- Battling Depression and Anxiety with Qigong
- Qigong 101: The Art of Healing for Busy People
If you want better results from your practice, then you follow this advice:
- Learn the 5-Phase Routine (optional but important)
- Learn a bunch of qigong exercises.
- Pick your favorites.
You don’t need to learn 100 exercises. Maybe later, you can have fun learning that many. I’ve learned well over 300, but I’ve been doing this for a while.
Remember that this is a lifelong journey. Even if you’re 70 years old, you can still enjoy qigong for many, many years to come. There’s plenty of time to learn new material!
Questions? Comments? Let’s have a chat below. Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen and a board member for the National Qigong Association, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.